The plan is for Mike D’Antoni to be at Staples Center Friday night for his sort-of debut as Lakers coach, except watching the game against the Suns on TV, a concession to knee-replacement surgery.
D’Antoni will bring his signature up-tempo offense with him to L.A., which is great because his new boss, owner Jerry Buss, loves the Showtime vibe. It’s great because fans enjoy watching the speed game, and it’s great because Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant are already way ahead of the learning curve on the new playbook.
So Nash, Bryant, Pau Gasol, Metta World Peace, Dwight Howard, Steve Blake, Antawn Jamison and Jordan Hill are challenging the league to a race?
The league accepts. Immediately.
Of all the reasons to fear the Lakers, getting left in the dust is not among them. Howard is an athletic marvel of a center, to be sure, especially once he is fully recovered from back surgery. But this is not a roster that on the whole is built for the fast lane.
It’s not about being in condition — Bryant and Nash are historically good about staying in shape. It’s not about being mobile — Gasol has agility for a big man. It’s that there is more than a little doubt that a veteran roster so lacking in athleticism is capable of playing fast.
“This is going to be very, very interesting,” one coach said.
“I’ll be curious to see how this works out,” a scout added.
D’Antoni, counter-punching at his introductory press conference Thursday:
“The advantage is if you have good players, it’ll work. If you have bad players, it doesn’t work. That would be anyone, but I’m really lucky to have Steve Nash, who’s done this. Every time June rolls around: ‘What about Steve Blake?’ I’ve been trying to get him for 10 years. We always tried to get him. I think he’s perfect for our system. (It) starts there with your smart players and I feel like you’re not going to outcoach every coach. Everybody is too prepared, everybody works too hard and you think I’m going to figure out something they haven’t figured out? You just don’t do that. Players eventually have to be accountable and win the game for you.”
“Books, papers and articles are funny because they have that catch line: ‘Seven second or less.’ I don’t even know how that came about, but that’s OK. My whole philosophy is 24 seconds or less. I don’t care if it’s seven, 10 or 20 (seconds). You just have to get one good shot in those 24 seconds, and that’s what we’ll do. I’ll expect us to be a little bit more up tempo, not seven seconds. There’s no reason why there’s not a great flow, whether that’s 13 seconds or 20 seconds. I was talking with Steve (Nash): ‘You have the best team, so why not play the most possessions you can play if you’re the best defensively and offensively?’ Anytime possessions are cut down, then a bad call, a missed shot then you have a chance to lose. If we keep possessions up here, then statistically, we have a lot better chance to win. That’s what we’re going to try and do. Whatever comes out, it’s going to be an efficient offensive team and an efficient defensive team.”
Seven seconds or less became the label because it was the title of the 2007 book by Sports Illustrated’s Jack McCallum. It’s a catchphrase, not an literal description. Besides, there was a strong belief among the post-D’Antoni Suns that going up-tempo, after the brief detour in style with Terry Porter as coach for 51 games, helped Nash. More speed equaled less contact, less contact equaled fewer chances for injury. The Lakers welcome the same theory.
“To me,” Alvin Gentry said in 2010 after replacing Porter and restoring the D’Antoni look with Nash in Phoenix, “it’s a lot harder playing that way (with the emphasis on a half-court offense) than it is to be in the open court. It’s like a wide receiver. It’s a hell of a lot easier going and running post patterns than it is going over the middle catching it.”
Now we have to see if it will work with this roster.